An exciting new military/political thriller with interesting, well-developed characters, Weapons of Mass Deception by David Bruns (@brunsdavid) and J. R. Olson explores the “what-if” scenario of Saddam’s Iraq really having a handful of nuclear devices on the eve of the 2003 U.S. invasion. This review is based on an advance copy of the book provided by the authors for that purpose.
No devices or other Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) were found after Saddam’s regime fell, so where did they go? Borrowing from an actual event more than a decade earlier during Operation Desert Storm, the authors postulate Saddam handing his nukes to Iran for safekeeping. But, unlike the Iraqi jet aircraft fleeing in 1991, the transfer of the nukes is kept secret, from the world and even the Iranian government and military.
Instead, the nukes are in the possession of a pair of half-brothers, one a cleric in the government and the other an officer in Iraq’s special forces. These two, especially the politically ambitious cleric, are content to play the long game with the nukes, upgrading the amateurish Iraqi devices while waiting for a moment requiring such decisive weapons to strike against their enemies.
It has been awhile since I’ve read such an engrossing thriller. I finished Weapons of Mass Destruction over the course of a long weekend and was reminded quite a bit of early Tom Clancy, before his books grew to doorstop size. I should note that although I call it a “military/political” thriller, the latter refers to the larger issues of diplomacy in the Middle East/Southwest Asia region, not the polarized and heated air of U.S. politics. However you feel about the real-life issue of WMDs in Iraq, you can enjoy this story.
Did I say above that the Iranians were playing the ‘long game’? Indeed they are, as the story unspools over a span of nearly a decade and a half, beginning just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and continuing into the future to early 2017. Despite the long arc, the plot moves at a good pace, propelled by the actions and personal development of a handful of interesting characters. On one hand are U.S. Navy officer Brendan McHugh, CIA analyst Don Riley, and FBI Special Agent Liz Soroush — classmates at the U.S. Naval Academy before going their separate ways. Opposing them is a trio of half-brothers, Aban, Hashem, and Rafiq — their blood connection less important than the enemy they share. Over the course of the book these characters realistically change and deal with challenges; even though there is no question who the good guys are, the villains are not cardboard cutouts.
In fact, despite the exotic locations and “ripped from the headlines” subject matter, I especially enjoyed the authors’ dedication to avoiding clichés and “sexy-ing up” either the plot or the characters. Although slightly spoiler-y, here’s a case in point: some time after leaving the special ops community, Brendan is asked to take part in a classified mission. His status as a guy no longer “inside the circle” elicits wariness and faint distrust from the SpecOps folks who still are. Brendan may bristle at this, but he knows where they’re coming from — that was him, not so long ago. Now, the Hollywood version of this scene would likely end with Brendan saving the day when a crisis manifests, and in the process win over those who doubted his ability to still get the job done in the dark, but thankfully the authors keep the story grounded in reality. To be sure, the mission is no less exciting to the reader, but as written it also rings true.
The authors are both former U.S. Navy officers, and as a retired naval officer myself I found numerous small details in the book that struck a chord with me. Small things like the way a thrice-divorced chief petty officer would respond when asked to speculate on what the opposite sex may be thinking. While such details may be lost on some, what won’t be is the confident and intelligent way the authors spin their yarn. It’s a fun read and I recommend it.
For more of the backstory on how this book came to be, check out “Two Navy Guys & A Novel” on Mr. Bruns’ website.